Visions of a Disc-less World

The annual Apple Macworld conference kicked off in San Francisco, Tuesday, Jan. 15, with CEO Steve Jobs unveiling an ultra small laptop and iTunes movie rentals you can download without using a computer.
By Rob Pegoraro
Thursday, January 17, 2008; Page D01


Steve Jobs's keynote at the Macworld Expo is almost never a dull show.

His opening presentation Tuesday showed how well Jobs pitches his own products, bubbling with an isn't-that-cool enthusiasm the rest of the business seems to have forgotten.

But a "Stevenote," as it is known in tech parlance, also has one more thing sorely absent from most industry executives' speeches: surprise.

Apple works hard to keep its news secret before Macworld, then announces it's going in a direction that people didn't expect.

At previous Macworld Expos, Apple has introduced compact, stylish all-in-one desktop computers when other machines were big, bulky, beige boxes. It rolled out affordable wireless networking when only computing pros messed with home networks. It launched the iPhone when most smartphones were required to meet the needs of busy executives, not bored commuters.

With Tuesday's product introductions, Apple floated a particularly audacious suggestion: Get rid of those shiny discs we use for songs, movies and software. The company that popularized homemade mix CDs and DVDs with its iTunes and iDVD programs now seems eager to let the CD and the DVD fade away.

At the Moscone Convention Center here, Jobs introduced movie rentals at the iTunes Store and an updated Apple TV media receiver that lets you download and watch the movies on a TV set without using a computer. He followed up by unveiling the MacBook Air, an ultra-thin laptop without a CD or DVD drive.

This might sound crazy, like suggesting to the users of 1998 that the floppy disk had outlived its usefulness. But just as Apple was right about going from floppy to compact disc, it could be right about going from disc to download -- if the movie industry will cooperate.

The idea makes sense on the basis of price alone. The cost of digital storage -- especially the most portable and compact kind, flash memory -- has cratered over the past few years, allowing devices to hold more data yet cost less each year.

Consider the iPod, which every year holds more gigabytes.. It makes sense that music sales have been moving from CDs to digital downloads. Record companies abandoning "digital rights management" copy controls should spur that shift.

Software is also easy to download. Only a handful of big-ticket items, such as Microsoft Office and Apple's iLife and iWork, have to be installed from discs -- and many computers come with those applications installed.

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